County supervisors take no action on rooster ordinance

Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously opt not to vote on a rooster ordinance, sheriff’s office remains as lone authority on policing cockfights

(Rigo Moran)
(Rigo Moran)
Darren Fraser
Published August 24, 2023  • 
3:00 pm

VISALIA – At its Aug. 22 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously not to take any action on amending the county’s existing zoning ordinance for roosters, whether that be on a farm or in a residential setting. 

This decision raised disappointment with the Animal Wellness Action, a group committed to preventing cruelty to animals. In an Aug. 22 press release, the group claimed the board voted to take no action on a policy addressing a “widespread possession of roosters for cockfighting in the sprawling, agriculturally oriented Central Valley county.”

Although the group said it presented the board with “detailed evidence about the presence of cockfighting in Tulare County,” it claimed the board instead opted to take no action “after about 30 cockfighting enthusiasts, masquerading as ‘gamefowl enthusiasts,’ spoke against the measure and argued it was an assault on their constitutional rights.”

However, Supervisor Amy Shuklian, District 3, said the rooster ordinance was not brought into discussion due to concerns related to cockfights. She confirmed this was brought to attention as the result of noise and order complaints.

“Cockfighting was pulled into it,” Shuklian said.

600 ROOSTERS

The issue was brought to the board of supervisors meeting by Dwight Zimmerman, president of the Dairymen of California. Prior to the meeting, he contacted Supervisor Chairman Dennis Townsend, District 5, and asked that the board include the issue of the rooster ordinance on the consent calendar; and during the meeting, asked the board to adopt the proposed ordinance.

Zimmerman, who lives east of Strathmore, said in 2015 Juan Bravo purchased the property next to Zimmerman’s. With him, Bravo brought hundreds of roosters, and according to Zimmerman, the noise is deafening.

“There are now about 600 roosters and 50 or 60 hens,” Zimmerman said. “I cannot accurately describe what the noise is like, but it goes on for 16 hours a day.” He said he complained to Bravo about the noise but Bravo did nothing.

During 2019 and 2020, Zimmerman said he complained to the county about Bravo’s roosters. He said from his property he could see roosters isolated from other birds. He also saw roosters tethered to barrels.

According to Zimmerman, Bravo eventually applied for and was given a special use permit from the county. 

“It granted him 400 poultry,” Zimmerman said.

CONFUSION AND COST

The board ultimately decided to do nothing with the ordinance as it is now for various reasons. First, Michael Washam, the associate director of the Tulare County Resource Management Agency (RMA), started off the overall discussion by informing the board that the existing ordinance concerning roosters was convoluted and confusing. 

In his presentation, he also reminded the board RMA was only seeking direction, and that whatever action the board took would constitute an initial step; that subsequent committee meetings would be required to adopt any changes. 

After Washam attempted to simplify the language of the existing ordinance, he asked Rob Stewart, who is the director of fiscal operations for the county’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), to explain to the board its options and the possible financial ramifications.

Stewart informed the board it had three options. Option A was to revise the county’s existing zoning ordinance regarding roosters. Option B was to adopt a new ordinance modeled on a Ventura County Ordinance. Option C was to do nothing.

Stewart explained that if the board recommended A or B – either of which would reduce the number of roosters that law allowed to exist on a property – the inevitable result would be an increase in the number of birds confiscated either by the sheriff or by animal control officers. 

“Animal services does not currently have facility space or adequate staffing to respond to the increased requests anticipated,” Stewart said, reading from a presentation. Stewart added that the county’s shelters are overextended dealing with the stray cat and dog populations.

Stewart said the estimated cost for option B, which included building a new facility to house the roosters as well as budgeting money for additional resources, including adding animal control officers, would be $2,360,700. Stewart added the yearly operating costs would amount to $470,000.

Stewart said the cost estimate could be low because it is impossible to know how many calls the sheriff’s office or animal control would be responding to if a new ordinance was adopted. More calls means higher expenses.

“We currently respond to one or two rooster-related calls per month,” Stewart said. He added that animal services receives significantly more calls each month related to stray or aggressive dogs.

THE SUPERVISORS HAVE THEIR SAY

Supervisor Pete Vander Poel III, District 2, mentioned his concern about spending millions of dollars on a rooster or poultry facility at the county’s animal services campus. 

“I am very concerned about hiring rooster policemen to be out there in Tulare County,” Vander Poel said. “I just don’t think that’s a common sense approach towards this issue.”

Following up on Stewart’s statement about the county not having adequate resources to adopt a new ordinance or adjust it, Supervisor Shuklian noted the county doesn’t have the proper resources to deal with the situation as it is now.

“And we don’t need to be telling people how many roosters they can have on their property,” Shuklian said.

Supervisor Eddie Valero, District 4, noted that Tulare County is a right-to-farm county, and raised concern about potential legal challenges that could arise from the ordinance.

“Are we able to create a legally defensible cause on this item?” Valero said. “And personally, I cannot justify telling a constituent that the county spent over $2 million to contain roosters. For me, that does not pass the giggle test.”

Supervisor Vice Chair Larry Micari, District 1, noted his distaste with the state and federal governments creating new laws instead of fixing what they already have on the books. However, he also said that there has been a need to seize birds before at cockfights and described them as something terrible.

“We did everything we could, the best we could, but I think we’re going too far (with this),” he said. “What’s next? Cows? We’re going to attack cattle next? Horses? Sheep?”

THE PUBLIC HAS ITS SAY

Craig Ainley, president of the California Association for the Preservation of Gamefowl, said the organization does not have anything to do with illegal things. He also noted that there are already laws against illegal cockfighting in place; so, from his account, this particular ordinance has nothing to do with that.

“It comes down to noise and nuisance,” Ainley said. “This is opening up a slippery slope for me. I agree with Mr. Micari. What’s next?”

Erik Sakach, senior animal law enforcement specialist with Animal Wellness Action, said as someone with 45 years of experience examining illegal cockfighting, that he found some of the things mentioned incredulous – specifically the estimated costs Stewart presented. He said Tulare County would be a unique county in the state if it spent the estimated $2 million on what he called a “gamefowl facility.”

“It would be the only facility to hold roosters or chickens – I have never heard of such a thing,” Sakach said, chastising the board. “And the yearly cost of $470,000? That’s off the wall. That is not going on in any other county.”

Darren Fraser
Reporter